tv NBC Nightly News NBC July 20, 2012 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT
american community where the same thing is going to be happening this coming weekend as happened here last night. it was the midnight premiere of the movie "batman" a sold out crowd and a few minutes into the movie what took place then will go down as one of the largest mass shootings in american history. we wanted to lead off with the latest numbers tonight and they are absolutely staggering. 71 people were shot in this incident. 12 of them dead. we have 59 wounded and some of the wounded are struggling with critical injuries. the suspect in this case has been identified as a 24-year-old ph.d candidate, university of colorado, said to be a san diego native to start off with. james eagan holmes. he arrived apparently according to police after much planning. he was suited out from head to toe in tactical gear, carrying multiple weapons.
imagine this. inside this state-of-the-art theater, this premiere movie, so many of the people in that theater had no other way of knowing that this wasn't somehow part of the presentation until it was clear the gas canister he fired off was real to suppress the crowd and the rounds coming from his weapons were real. our team is here assembled to cover this story. let's begin with what happened with nbc's miguel almaguer. >> 315 and 314 for a shooting at century theaters. >> reporter: the emergency calls flooded in as hundreds rushed out. >> i have people running out of the theater that have been shot. >> reporter: the victims soaked in blood, some carried out by family and friends. police say the gunman, 24-year-old neuro science graduate student james holmes wore body armor and was armed with an assault rifle, a 12 gauge shotgun and two glock hand guns.
minutes into the batman movie he opened fire with his hair dyed a reddish orange. he told police he was the joker. 71 people were shot and 12 are deceased. >> i thought there was no way in the world i'd get out of there without being shot. >> reporter: these two men were among the 200 inside theater number nine. they thought it was a stunt. >> we thought it was part of the movie. everybody thought it was part of the show. >> reporter: the shooter never said a word. >> he looked so calm when he did it. it was scary. >> reporter: witnesses say he tossed what appeared to be smoke grenades, then pointing his weapon into the air fired a single shot. movie goers dropped to the ground. some ran for the exits. then the suspect opened fire spraying bullets at anyone that moved. police found holmes' parked car outside the back door of the sold out theater. >> he surrendered without any significant incident to our officers. >> reporter: tonight detectives
have no motive and say holmes acted alone. four miles from the crime scene police swarmed his apartment. >> his apartment is apparently booby trapped. we could be here for hours. we could be here for days. >> reporter: using a hook and ladder fire truck and a camera connected to a pole, police discovered multiple incendiary devices. >> right now in the back of the car getting him transported. any ambulance we could get would be nice. >> reporter: the victims were rushed to multiple hospitals including a mother with her infant. >> i just grabbed my daughter and got out as fast as i could. >> reporter: four members of the military. among the dead, 24-year-old jessica ghawi, an aspiring sportscaster. britney jackson considers herself lucky. she gave her movie ticket away when she became ill and was in the hospital when victims started pouring in. >> there were people unconscious, people bleeding. i saw one bed go past, poor guy had blood caked all over his face.
>> reporter: tonight colorado's third largest city is in shock, a community grieving. miguel almaguer, nbc news, aurora, colorado. >> when we arrived on the scene this afternoon we immediately had a conversation with one of the witnesses. she is 24 years old. her name is jennifer seeger. she came to the movies last night with her best friend. they arrived a little late and the only seats available as is often the case were down front. she found herself in the second row. here is some of our conversation with her. like so many people you showed up for the premiere showing and what do you remember from the usual piling in, getting to your seat, getting settled? anything? >> well, pretty typical. i came in a little later you know because originally the ticket was supposed to be given to someone else but i came in last minute taking the place of somebody else. the only seats available were the front seats. it was packed.
you know, i expected it to be. it was the midnight showing of the latest batman movie. pretty good as far as that goes. >> we americans don't make a whole lot of eye contact when we're getting settled. we're about our business so no one can blame you if you don't remember the specific faces. >> you know, as far as the gunner, yeah. no, i mean he had a gas mask on. he was covered from head to toe. there is no way that you could tell what race he was or, you know, as far as that goes, but he's about i'd say six feet, 6'3", and about 185, 200 pounds, you know. that's all you could really tell. he came in through an access exit on my right-hand side. i was literally in the second row of seats, you know. he let off the gas. it was in a green can. he took the tab and threw it and it exploded in the crowd. at that point it was just mass chaos. he shot his first shot into the ceiling and everybody is like
oh, my god it's a gun. it's not fake. it's real. get out. get out. they just started panicking. it was mass chaos. from that point he took the gun and pointed it directly at my face. he was three or four feet away from me and i honestly didn't know what to do. i was terrified. i just knew that if i didn't do something quick in the next five seconds or so i was going to be dead so i literally dove as fast as i could to the ground and tucked myself under the seat in the aisle and told everybody else there to just lay there. don't move. stay calm. >> when will what you've been through impact you do you think? >> i don't know. i'm a very analytical person. i overthink everything. i know i'll probably sit there tomorrow and just be like oh, my god. you know? and just have flash backs of it and just -- i think with the support of my family and my friends that really care about me and love me, you know, the country and the people that were sympathizing for all of us that were in that, i think we'll be just fine. >> jennifer seeger in the second row last night has no idea why she is alive today.
such composure 24 hours later. now about this suspect. alive in custody, 24 years old, mike taibbi here with us part of our coverage. what have you been able to learn? brian, we spent a lot of today at the apartment complex where he lives. until last month he was just a quiet grad student living a few blocks from the university of colorado campus. then he quit school, no reason given, and then he ended up a few days later allegedly buying the last of the four guns found at the scene of the massacre. the few people who had any contact with james eagan holmes in his aurora neighborhood described him as not just quiet but as a recluse who lived with the shades drawn and when he did meet someone he revealed little. >> kept to himself. didn't like attention. >> we never heard anything abnormal until midnight when we heard loud music playing. >> reporter: in the theater during the rampage witnesses said the suspect had no message at all. >> he didn't say a word. >> not a word. >> reporter: but he was dressed in full battle gear.
>> he was wearing a ballistic helmet, a tactical ballistic vest, ballistic leggings, a throat protector, and a groin protector and a gas mask and black tactical gloves. >> looked like a deranged individual. he had his hair painted red. he said he was the joker. obviously the, quote, enemy of batman. >> reporter: growing up in san diego there had been no sign of future trouble. holmes played soccer and went to neighborhood birthday parties. >> this was a nice kid, grew up in a nice neighborhood. >> reporter: then a bachelor of science degree in neuro science from the university of california at riverside. >> he was an honor student, so academically he was at the top of the top. >> reporter: before moving to colorado last year to study the biological basis of psychiatric and neurological disorders at uc's anschutz medical campus. he quit last month and in recent months purchased four weapons exactly like these, the last bought two weeks ago.
after the shootings he warned police the mayhem might not be over. >> and our investigation determined that his apartment is booby trapped with various incendiary and chemical devices and apparent trip wires. so we have an active and difficult scene. >> reporter: while the police worked deliberately in their approach to holmes' apartment that building and four others evacuated, the holmes family in san diego issued a statement saying, our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy. we are still trying to process this information and we appreciate that people will respect our privacy. holmes has reportedly retained a lawyer and also reportedly is not cooperating with police right now. before this his only brush with the criminal justice system was a speeding ticket last year. >> we'll no doubt be learning a lot more as hours go by. mike taibbi on the suspect in this case. now about the victims. nbc's kristen dahlgren has more on this staggering loss.
>> reporter: she was an aspiring sports reporter, just 24 jessica ghawi was quick with a laugh and it was often contagious. this was her first big interview. >> you're nailing it. i'm telling you. >> i'm doing such a great job. >> reporter: just before the shooting ghawi tweeted from the theater. movie doesn't start for 20 minutes. it was the last message she would send. her brother still can't believe it. >> she had a passion for life. it showed. it showed in everything she did. >> reporter: while social media filled with heart breaking notes from those who knew ghawi and retweets of her last blog post. in an almost unbelievable twist of fate she recalls barely escaping a mall shooting in toronto last month writing, after saturday evening i know i truly understand how blessed i am for each second i am given. just weeks later another gunman would end her life. 17-year-old tanner coon survived the shooting but will never forget what he saw. >> and i tripped and slipped on some blood and landed on a lady.
i shook the lady. told her you need to get up and go. there was no response. >> reporter: as police withheld the identities of the fallen frantic messages appeared on social media searching for answers and the unthinkable. if anyone knows the whereabouts of terrell hardman let him know his uncle b is desperately looking for him. alex sullivan 27. his dad can't get ahold of him. has anyone seen him? on facebook chris reassured his loved ones he was alive posting these photos. a friend of louis durant sent this picture. he is 18 years old, just graduated high school, and was thrilled to see "the dark knight" premiere, a movie ticket that changed so many lives. late today ann curry spoke with jamie rohrs who was in the theater with his family. >> i just remember seeing his head looking up at me, his little eyes and crying there.
i was so frustrated about what to do. >> reporter: kristen dahlgren, nbc news, los angeles. >> ann curry is here with us. we saw you talking to two of those people. what more can you tell us? >> i can also tell you that patricia, the last two people in the story we just talked about was hit with shrapnel in her leg. can you imagine trying to face this trauma with two small children. jamie and patricia talked about being so stunned. all they could think about was trying to save the children. they covered them with their bodies, threw them on the ground and when they heard the shooting slow they ran to save their children. interestingly enough jamie and patricia are boyfriend and girlfriend, both 25. it is today, brian when jamie realized what could have been lost, how valuable, how important, how fragile life is. it is today that he asked patricia to marry him in the hospital and it is today that she said knowing what she could have lost, she said yes. >> another side of this coin.
we don't want to judge anyone or anything after this tragedy but a whole lot of parents woke up this morning across this country and said, what were young kids doing at that movie at that hour in that theater? >> you know, i think the answer to that is really something we all really know the answer to and that is that, you know, parents especially young parents need a break like everyone else. and so they were going because they heard so much about this movie. and everyone was so excited to see it. it was just an opportunity for them to be together to have a family moment. the 4-year-old that you just saw in the story was sleeping actually and the baby was being held asleep. so for the parents it was just an opportunity to be together. >> all right. special hour of "dateline" coming up. ann curry here with us, part of our team covering this. we'll take a break. when we come back the shock waves from this across the country today.
we are back in aurora, colorado. again, a community now always associated with this one of the worst ever mass shootings in american history. as we've been mentioning the shock waves from here spreading around the world and certainly around our country. more on that from nbc's anne thompson. >> reporter: caution replaced excitement at screenings of batman around the country. >> i'll be a lot more aware of the exits around the movie
theaters now. it's kind of scary to think someone would come and do this. >> reporter: to calm fears today many movie goers like those in alexandria, virginia saw a visible police presence. at least two police officers are at each of the 40 new york city theaters where the movie is playing. >> could i have one for batman please? >> reporter: at the davis theater in chicago joe jensen couldn't stay away but couldn't ignore what happened either. >> if you're looking to do a little adventure and suddenly that place is no longer the safe zone. >> reporter: kelsey philips is one of those reassessing. >> if there is a movie that has a midnight showing i would really want to go see i think i would maybe think twice about it. >> reporter: today's events made everyone's pause. >> there's not one of us that doesn't read or hear this story. certainly anyone who has children and think about it being your child in that movie theater. >> it reached all the way to paris, tonight's premiere canceled because of the shooting. the olympic torch arrived in
london today but it was colorado that led britain's newscast. >> the night at the movies that turned into a massacre. >> reporter: at some theaters there are new rules. the amc movie chain announced it will not allow customers to wear face covering masks or bring safe weapons into theaters and warned those in costumes could be turned away. cinemark the nation's third largest theater chain and owner of the theater where the shooting took place tried to reassure its customers. >> we have over 250 million people a year attend our theaters here and throughout the world and the security or problems are very, very rare. >> reporter: where a place to escape to became a place to escape from. anne thompson, nbc news, new york. >> all right. we are back. we're having satellite communications troubles here in aurora, colorado. when we come back, the very latest on the investigation.
flags at half staff over the white house by order of the president as they are all across the country. it was a striking sight arriving here in aurora, colorado and seeing them at half staff on our ride to this now desolate scene, scene of one of the worst mass shootings in american history. our justice correspondent pete williams in washington has more on this tricky investigation going on at the apartment of this 24-year-old suspect which, remember, they found booby trapped upon arrival. pete, good evening. >> brian, the question is how soon can they get in there? all these hours since the shooting and they still haven't gotten inside. people i've talked to say it is a hellish jumble in there. there are bottles with liquids, fireworks, containers with ammunition, powders, all connected with trip wires. they don't know if it's the real thing or not. they have to assume it is partly because he has indicated he is willing to kill, partly because of recent purchases that he's
made. and there are obvious reasons they want to get in there and disarm it. they want to preserve evidence. all of those things are evidence. they're also hoping, brian, somewhere in there is an answer to why this young man did this. they want to look at any writings that he has, any receipts that he may have had. they want to look at his computer, at his e-mail, all of those things are very important to the investigation. if they can't get in there and they really want to, they face the prospect potentially of blowing the building up, brian. >> all right. pete williams in washington and just for perspective, from our location here at the multi-plex the apartment this investigation is happening at is about three and a half miles away, a position we passed getting here. our coverage from aurora, colorado will continue right after this.
>> we are back here in aurora, colorado, where last night, a full theater full of people, they were doing what millions of americans intend to do this weekend. but in this case, they were seeing the late screening, the midnight premier of batman. what happened next, what resulted will always be in association between this loss of life and this community, one of the worst mass shootings in american history, 71 people shot in all, 59 of those wounded and sadly, this community is now mourning 12 dead. ann curry is here for a special edition of "dateline" tonight. that's going to be 9:00 p.m. eastern time. of course our team is here and will remain in place into the investigation into this 24-year-old suspect is just now getting underway. for all of us here in aurora, colorado, i'm brian williams, nbc "nbc nightly news."
good night, have a good weekend. right now at 6:00, developing news, an act of terror inside a movie theater, the carnage unbelievable in a colorado time. right now from coast to coast, a nation pauses to reflect and to wonder why. good evening and thank you for joining us. >> police have no motive in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent history. 12 people were killed and 59 others injured when a masked gunman dressed in body armor charged the crowded suburban
theater. the suspect, james holmes who has extensive ties here in california. we have full coverage of this event from the bay area to carmel to san diego. we have live coverage. jay gray also in colorado tonight. >> reporter: it was just after midnight when the dark knight quickly moved from fiction to reality. >> we were watching the movie, it was a shoot-out scene, there were guns firing and loud bangs came from the right of the theater. smoke took over. >> reporter: witnesses say a man wearing a ballistic bullet-proof vest and body armor tossed two smoke canisters into the packed theater. >> it got hard to breathe and less than two seconds after it going off, the shooting